Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola is a 1992 adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. Though there are many analyses concerning this popular film, it is especially interesting to discuss it as an adaptation.
Situating Coppola's Dracula in Adaptation
The film claims a sort of fidelity to the well known parent text written by Bram Stoker with the posters and movie covers showing the title as Bram Stoker's Dracula, but the film itself is not concerned with absolute fidelity. Many of the scenes and plot lines are recognizable from Stoker's novel, but character presentation and overall plot structure have been tweaked and even completely overhauled in some respects.
For a film that almost boasts of its fidelity to a previous text, it may seem strange to find that Coppola has changed Dracula into a love story between Mina and the Count (or the prince as Mina calls Dracula throughout the film). It may even seem odd that Coppola mostly follows the text except when it comes to Mina's character including the original ending created by Stoker in which Mina and Harker have a child. The fact of the matter is that Dracula(1992) is a creation of Coppola, the actors, and the studio in which it was produced, so it will obviously have a focus and purpose different from that of Stoker. Though a majority of the plot and characters are obviously from Stoker's novel, the images, the dialogue, the acting, and the love story are obviously creations of the studio which was inspired by the progenitor text and other horror or monster films that came before them.
This fact does not keep Coppola's film from being an adaptation, because change is just the nature of the beast. Different mediums, different audiences, and different purposes will keep an adaptations from being "exactly" the same. The intention to supplement (as Jacques Derrida defines it) a progenitor text seems to be the criteria for considering a text to be an adaptation. Coppola's intention to add to the well known story situates the text as an adaptation regardless of his claims to follow the book faithfully.
To discuss what the 1992 Dracula changed and why is not to discuss the importance of adaptation fidelity, but to discuss the the various ways those changes affect the narrative. It seems that the studio wanted to focus on Dracula as a monster and a being that was once human who can love and is vulnerable. For some viewers this iteration of Dracula as a complex being who may have fallen from grace yet still holds some human emotions is entertaining, or at least more interesting as a main character than a simple cold-blooded killer, but for others Coppola's rendition of the character of Dracula is ridiculous and incompatible with the character's history and mythos. For Coppola, the intrigue of Dracula is not so much the violence and the predatory nature of the creature, but his power of seduction and the little bit of humanity that may conceivably still remain in a being that was once human.
What does Coppola's version of Dracula bring to the tale other than a different level of interest for the viewer? Is it a commentary on the nature and experience of being human or simply living as an intelligent being? It could be argued that Stoker's novel explores the complexity of human desire and the graying of the lines between gender, sexuality, and morality, so it could also be argued that Coppola's Dracula supplements this subtext of the progenitor text by extending this exploration to the supernatural and most interesting character of Dracula. Dracula, as played by Gary Oldman in the 1992 film, is now the focus of interest and the space in which the modern audience can more freely, tearfully, and fearfully explore these questions.
==Sexuality and Love==
If there is one aspect of which one could say that Dracula (1992) stays close to its predecessor it is in the focus on gender and sexuality. In a similar spirit to the text that inspired the film, Coppola and company depict images of writhing women, ambiguous sexuality, bestiality, infidelity in marriage, and especially lusting or longing for an embrace and/or penetration (of the teeth of course) for both men and women.
The studio obviously wanted to focus on the infinitely interesting character of Dracula, they also wanted to focus on the never ending discussion of sexuality, and especially female sexuality. Lucy's sexuality and desire figures much more prominently in Coppola's Dracula than Stoker's as Lucy writhes and moans on her bed after Dracula's nightly visits to her room. She is clothed in red and her breasts are bare. It is the sexualized body of Lucy that Coppola presents to us instead of the slow draining of life that Stoker focused on. The female sexuality is what is presented as terrifying and unnatural instead of the constant loss of blood. It is titillating for the audience, but it also suggests that female sexuality is what Coppola desired to be the main focus of the narrative.
Mina's sexuality is also on show as she moans and gyrates, but she tends to be more clothed than Lucy. Mina is not presented to the audience as a sexual being for the sake of show, but her desire is directed toward the Count. This sort of love that Coppola has framed his version of Dracula with is not a "virtuous" sort of love, but a noticeably sexual sort of love. This aspect of the relationship between Mina and Dracula does not seem to be considered a negative aspect. As Mina attempts to protect her new beloved against the violence of her husband in the final scene the audience may almost feel pity for the lovers. Love, for these characters, is more than an agreement to enter into marriage, but involves sexual desire. Though Mina's previous courtship with Johnathan Harker was "innocent" and proper (i.e. no pre-marital sexual encounters) the audience is almost led to approve of the more passionate and sexual union between Mina and Dracula.
This union between Mina and Dracula is shown in their swapping of blood in her bed instead of the sort of union we see between Dracula and Lucy which is blatantly sexual as the wolf-like version of Dracula is found between her legs. Mina and Dracula present a complicated relationship with physical passions that are somehow more than simple primal urges. Their union is presented as passionate and almost spiritual.
Not only is love presented as an experience involving sexuality, but it also comes in multiple forms. Mina does not completely forsake her husband for this passion for Dracula, and Lucy is also presented as a character that desires multiple admires. Even Johnathan Harker experiences a desire to be touched by multiple women (the three vampire wives in Dracula's castle). These scenes suggests a desire for love that goes beyond monogamy. Coppola even gives a quick scene of sexual passion between Mina and Lucy suggesting that some lovers need not be of opposite sexes. These portrayals of the different forms of love are still presented as "base" or "primal" urges, so it is difficult to suggest that these produce a positive discussion about the various kinds of commitments that humans can enter into, but it may indeed problematize the notion that heterosexual-monogamy is the preferred kind of commitment, especially of a sexual nature. Though this ambiguity about gender and sexuality can be interpreted from Stoker's novel, one can say Coppola focuses on this feature of the original more so than other adaptations, and in a more explicit manner with the visual and auditory presence of sexuality. Coppola also takes this a little further than Stoker by including the explicit scene of female same sex attraction.
Another interesting note about the portrayal of sex is the fact that the women are the sexual instigators, instead of the men. This is an inversion of the assumed role of women as passive receivers of the passions of virile men. If such sex roles are assumed to be proper or to reflect reality, the experiences and the desires of these characters are evidence to the contrary. Women sometimes desire multiple lovers (polyandry) and men sometimes desire to be passive or even penetrated themselves, as in Harker's case with the three female vampires. These seemingly inverted roles could be a space in which the audience can examine their preconceived notions about gendered sexuality, or they could be seen as unnatural enough to reaffirm previously held beliefs concerning appropriate sex roles based on gender. The film gives little reason to assume intentions leaning one way or the other.
The sexualization of Lucy in the film also brings up the issue that to sexualize a person in this manner can effectively turn them into an object or a commodity to be consumed instead of a complex autonomous individual. Why did Coppola decide to only focus on Lucy's sexuality and mostly focus on Mina's rising desire as these two women become vampiric, yet Dracula, the only male vampire we see, is presented as a complex character with emotions beyond the basic lust for blood or sex? It is here that we can see the male gaze in action. Once women have been sexualized by a male (Dracula or the default assumption of the audience as male?) she is made an object that can be used. This is not a gender necessity, but this is a phenomenon that has been witnessed in mass productions of western culture and art, and we see it in Dracula (1992),
Such sexual tension excites an audience obviously drawing in paying customers, but it also gives the viewer a world in which they can explore gender binaries and what it means to desire or love. Whether we discuss polygamy, polyandry, feminine qualities in men, homosexuality, or the kind of consumption/commodification of a person caused by sexualization and desire, this adaptation brings the same issues that subtly exist in Stoker's work to the viewers eye. This visual medium of film makes such issues explicitly and almost corporeally present or obvious such that one cannot unsee it. The medium of film almost requires the sexuality from the progenitor text to be made overt in the adaptation of the narrative to film.
==Adaptation, Allusions, and Appropriation==
Though Coppola's work explicitly claims to be an adaptation of Stoker's work, there are many other works influencing the film as well. All texts are intertextual in a manner of speaking, so Coppola's text is no exception; it is a product of what came before it. Such allusions and appropriations seem to reflect other horror films of the time such as The Exorcist with a focus on intense phrases invoking Christ and projectile vomiting (such as
Lucy's violent expulsion of blood as Hellsing invokes the power of the cross). Such allusions give the audience, and especially an audience that is unfamiliar with Stoker's novel, an image that they are familiar with as a way to evoke horror as well as enjoyment.
These allusions to other horrific or supernatural films work to supplement the original text as a narrative that visually belongs to the ever growing and changing body of texts (film, novels, graphic novels, etc.) that an audience would associate together as Horror or Gothic.
Coppola, Francis Ford. Dracula. N. p., 1992. Film.>
Contributor(s): Alexis Stephenson